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MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines and United States have commenced the second iteration of a joint maritime cooperative activity in the West Philippine Sea, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced on Wednesday, January 3.
From January 3 to 4, the AFP and the United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) will conduct passing exercises, communication checks, cross-deck exercises, joint patrols, Officer of the Watch maneuvers, and fixed-wing flight operations.
For the bilateral event, the Philippines sent four Philippine Navy vessels, a multi-role helicopter, and an anti-submarine warfare-capable helicopter.
Meanwhile, the USINDOPACOM’s participating vehicles included four US Navy vessels from the Carrier Strike Group 1, an aircraft carrier, a cruiser, two destroyers, and a multiple-combat aircraft.
The AFP in its Wednesday statement said the assets of both countries performed “advanced” maritime communication exercises on the first day. The vessels performed division tactics, which are exercises that “develop their confidence in maneuvering near other vessels.”
It added that the conduct of the exercises required “complete coordination” between Philippine and US assets for both sides’ enhanced operational capabilities and interoperability.
“The [second] maritime cooperative activity marks a significant leap in our alliance and interoperability with the United States. It also demonstrates our progress in defense capabilities and development as a world-class armed force, as we carry out our mandate to protect the people and the state,” said AFP Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner Jr.
Brawner added that the Philippines’ alliance with the United States was “stronger than ever.”
“We are advancing a rules-based international order and a free and open Indo-Pacific region in the face of regional challenges,” he said.
The AFP and USINDOPACOM first performed joint patrols in November 2023, during a time of heightened tensions between Manila and Beijing over China’s harassment in the West Philippine Sea.
The latest patrols would likely irk China amid rising tensions in the South China Sea. In end-2023, Beijing said it would not turn a blind eye to repeated “provocations and harassment” by the Philippines. The AFP, meanwhile, said it was not provoking conflict.
Chinese state media has also accused Manila of relying on US support to continually antagonize China.
Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers have expressed concern over continued tensions in the South China Sea, citing a possible threat to regional peace. – Michelle Abad, with reports from Reuters/Rappler.com